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Mark Clark

Mark Clark

Mark Clark is the public information officer for a law enforcement agency in the southwest. He is also a photographer and contributor to POLICE Magazine.
Patrol

A Plea for Ballistic Helmets

Is it time for head and face armor on patrol?

February 07, 2014  |  by - Also by this author

For some time now, Stan Cohen, editor of The Pennsylvania Police Criminal Law Bulletin (PPCLB), has been lobbying to get ballistic helmets issued to LEOs across this country. He does this on his own time and of his own initiative. That he does so tirelessly is even more remarkable.

I am excerpting some of his thoughts as they reflect both the mindset behind his efforts as well as those that should be embraced by cops throughout America.

Police Officer John Trettin, 29, Philadelphia Police Dept., 2/29/1976. Officer Trettin was investigating a report of shots being fired when a suspect shot him in the head from a roof in a housing project. He was not wearing a ballistic face shield/helmet, which may have saved his life. He lost 46 years of life, and could have lived to 2022, and would be 62 years old today, probably with grandchildren. He would still have about 13 more years to live. He left three young children. They have been without their father for thirty-eight years today. Thirty-eight years of not feeling his hugs and kisses and playing together and having fun.

Why? He was doing his duty protecting citizens. His children are citizens and he has a duty to protect them from being without a father for thirty-eight years by wearing a ballistic face shield/helmet in high risk situations like walking in an area where shots had been reported being recently fired. Other officers today are in a similar situation to Officer Trettin.

Some officers object to wearing ballistic face shields/helmets in high risk situations.

I submitted the following statement to several police officers and asked them if they thought it would be appropriate to say to police officers and help to motivate them to wear ballistic face shields in high risk situations.

One of these officers answered me as follows:

"Hello, Stan, unless there is a department policy, wearing face shields is much like wearing body armor or seat belts in that officers have to be internally motivated, and I think their children’s reactions would provide a significant level of internal motivation."

My statement is this: Police officers who object to wearing ballistic face shields/helmets in high risk shooting situations should have a face-to-face discussion with their children and ask their children, "What if daddy or mommy would get killed at work and not ever come home again and not ever hug and kiss you or play with you, how would you feel?”

I think most children would begin to cry upon hearing this. The officer should see and feel their hurt. They cry at his/her funeral too, but the officer does not see this. He/she should constantly keep this "child-painful-hurt" in mind while on patrol and when thinking about doing the job.

Seeing this would be an incentive for the officer to want to put a ballistic face shield/helmet on before or during involvement in a high-risk shooting incident so he/she will not be killed and cause his/her children that "child-painful-hurt" he experienced during his/her discussion with his/her child.

The ballistic face shield/helmet should be as close to the officer in the cruiser as his/her protective body armor because there is no time to get it out of the trunk. Some officers are shot in the head sitting in their cruisers or exiting the cruisers or shortly after existing the cruisers. Again, think of the tears on your child's face.

Here is a true life story. On my Bullet One list I have Officer Jeffrey Yaslowitz listed as the 869th officer shot in the head. Please read what his eight-year-old daughter said about him after he was shot in the head and killed: “I want my daddy back. I want to kiss him.”

K9 Officer Jeffrey Yaslowitz, 39, St. Petersburg PD, Florida, 1/24/11, while serving a warrant on suspect wanted for aggravated battery, he went to the attic where the suspect’s wife said he was and possibly armed. Officer Yaslowitz, knowing the suspect was possibly armed and without wearing a ballistic face shield and helmet, climbed up through a hole in the dark attic, exposing his head first, then he climbed all the way in. As he was putting handcuffs on the suspect, the suspect shot Officer Yaslowitz in the head twice. He probably died instantly. Just before shooting the officer, the suspect told the officers that they had him, and then he shot the officer in the head twice.

Recall his daughter's words. How can anyone not cry after hearing children talk like this about their fathers? In my opinion, Officer Yaslowitz, would probably be alive today and with his family had he had a ballistic face shield and helmet on because they would have stopped the bullets that hit him in the head, allowing him and his partner, also in the attic, to return fire on the suspect.

All police officers who respond to this kind of incident should have ballistic face shields and helmets stowed in their cruisers for instant access. They should place them on their heads before leaving their cruisers (officers have been shot in the head leaving their cruisers) and before confronting suspects. When a suspect starts shooting, the officer does not have time to go back to the cruiser for the face shield and helmet.

If officers train while wearing the helmet and face shield at the target range or at home, the weight should be less noticeable in a combat situation.

And in a combat situation with adrenaline running high, this too should make the weight less noticeable to the officer and not alter his shooting ability.

To be candid, I am not entirely sure of the accuracy of the Florida incident as it relates to the details. But the import of Stan’s message trumps the reconciling of such concerns as researching the matter would only delay sharing the underlying wisdom of Stan's words that is otherwise unimpeachable. And while I would not recommend that you actually have that chat with your kids, I would hope that you could envision it and prioritize accordingly.

Because if you are incapable of recognizing the wisdom of wearing such gear should it be availed you, then perhaps you should have that conversation.

In which case, shame on you.

If you'd like to reach out to Stan or get on his BulletOne mailing list, e-mail him at stancohen1@comcast.net.

Tags: Officer Down, Helmets


Comments (6)

Displaying 1 - 6 of 6

Don't get me wrong... @ 2/10/2014 7:37 PM

Don't get me wrong. I love ballistic helmets for general police use.

But, some of the cases listed occurred when true ballistic, bullet stopping (or resistant) helmets didn't exist.

The first generally available ballistic helmet capable of reliably stopping pistol fire was the PASGT helmet, which wasn't fielded until the early 1980s and would not have been available to civilian law enforcement until the late 1980s, at best.

Similarly, ballistic face shields capable of stopping pistol fire weren't available until the late 1990s, as a general rule. They are also prohibitvely expensive and most preclude the user from being able to use the sights on a long gun or use many non standard firing positions. They are also fairly heavy and wearing one for any length of time, to put it simply, sucks. The juice is not worth the squeeze, outside of some specialized tactical use by SWAT teams in certain circumstances.

Don't get me wrong...(par @ 2/10/2014 7:46 PM

SWAT teams, particularly in some of the east coast dense urban settings, get much better use out of ballistic face shields and hand-carried shields than officers in suburban, rural or more dispersed urban settings. For officers out West or those facing rifle threats, ballistic face shields and hand-carried shields are often useless mobility killers. The real focus by those who KNOW modern tactical doctrine and gear is on making individual gear lighter and more athletic and then bridging gaps with armored vehicles, terrain and obscurants.

The "turtle" armor set-up where an officer is completely ensconsed in bullet-resistant materials is largely (and correctly) obsolete.

As for patrol first responders, they SHOULD be equipped with ballistic helmets (but not face shields). But, more focus needs to go towards the general issuance (and periodic mandatory use of) rifle rated plates and carriers and adoption of TCCC casualty care protocols and the attendant life-saving equipment.

Don't get me wrong...(par @ 2/10/2014 7:54 PM

The emotional context of the argument, while partially compelling, lacks the logic and detachment necessary to "sell" the idea to the executives at a law enforcement and rings more as a plea to fellow officers to accept the concept. The "talk wih the kids" portion in particular, while heartfelt, is unrealistic.

A better strategy would likely be to point out that issuing additional ballistic protection has largely become an "industry standard" practice and is widely regarded as a "best practice" with regard to cutting-edge police tactics. Many agencies have a general issue of ballistic helmets and plate carriers. I have heard of no problems with these existing programs, and I am aware of at least a few plate carrier "saves."

As far as daily use, that may be much harder sell, as public perception of an agency where officers "always" wearing helmets might tend to be quite negative, particularly given the often stupid anti-LE sentiments that psread virally these days in bologosphere.

Don't get me wrong...(par @ 2/10/2014 8:03 PM

As to actual usage, restictive policies wind up keeping them items from being used. Best practices are for a permissive policy coupled with mandated usage during certain types of calls. Street leadership should be getting on the radio and requiring officers to don helmets and PCs (and deploy carbines) on certain calls, and street officers should have the latitude to self-deploy that lifesaving gear when they think it is apparently needed.

In summation:

1. Drop the face shield concept; they aren't worth it and have significantly more drawbacks than strengths.

2. Push for a general issue of Plate Carriers. They are arguably MORE important than helmets and will get used more frequently.

3. Issue TCCC gear and adopt the doctrine. Also tie the TCCC gear to the PC.

4. Carbines, and tie carbine use to PCs, as much as is possible; then your officers will be deploying a package of enhanced capabilities.

Emphasize that ALL of these capabilities are complimentary best practics.
Good luck.

Manuel @ 2/11/2014 7:53 AM

I agree with the obtaining of ballistic helmets for officers for use in an active on going shooting. but the previous posts have summed up the points I was going to put out. the scenarios especially were not really thought out in planning the editorial the case of K9 Officer Jeffery Yaslowitz was more due to not calling in the tac team, when they knew there was a possible armed gunman hiding in the attic was more to to with bad tactics than not having a ballistic helmet.

Ima Leprechaun @ 2/20/2014 12:52 PM

Application of special equipment at special engagements is a good idea but many on here will blog that it should be worn every second of every day. Carrying back-up supplemental equipment is a good idea but it should be used on a case by case basis.

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